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What Size Heli to Start? 18Apr08

Posted by tanker in Beginner.
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A common question from beginners is, “What size heli should I start with?” Of course in this case by ‘start’ we mean you have been through the basics of hover training and are ready to move on to a ‘real’ helicopter. The primary choices now are the 450-, 500-, and 600-sized helis. There are some that fit in between those sizes but the question is still basically small, medium, or large?

Many beginners mistakenly believe they should begin with a small 450-sized heli and then work their way up to the larger machines. This is not necessarily the best decision. What size heli you choose actually has little to do with your skills. In fact, the larger helis are much easier to fly than the smaller ones and, in that respect, are actually a better choice for beginners.

Of course the decision is more complicated than that. The most important considerations for what size heli to get are probably cost and flying sites. The larger helis are more expensive than the smaller helis. That is not to say you can not spend as much, or more, on a smaller heli than a large one but for the most part this will hold true especially for batteries and repairs. So if you do not have the funds for a larger heli then that makes the decision for you. If the cost of the larger heli is not a barrier then you need to also consider the size of your possible flying sites. Larger helis require more space to fly in. This is even more important when you are first starting out. A veteran can fly in a space that would be too small for a beginner. If you want to get a 600-sized heli be sure you have a 100m square (or so) area in which to fly that is clear of obstructions (trees, bushes, buildings) and people. You can safely fly a 450-sized heli in half that space. Size can also have a reverse effect. If you plan to fly at an RC model airfield that is designed for fixed-wing aircraft you might find that the layout of the pilot stations and runway make it difficult to fly smaller helis because you are forced too far away from the aircraft even at takeoff. This is less of an issue for veterans but a much larger issue with new pilots. Small helis get even smaller as they get further away.

It is for these reasons that the 500-sized helis are becoming very popular. They are considerably more stable than the 450-sized helis but require less room and less cost than the 600 sized helis. Battery choices are also more flexible with 500-sized helis. For example, you can fly the T-Rex 500 on two T-Rex 450 batteries or a single 6S LiPo. If you already own a 450 (or something else that uses 3S 2100mAh LiPos) then the T-Rex 500 becomes an attractive option over the T-Rex 600 for which you would need to buy new, and more expensive, 6S-8S LiPos.

Safety, assistance, and education are other issues to consider. While 450-sized helis, especially with high head speeds and carbon blades, are dangerous, in a beginner’s configuration with lower head speeds and wood blades they are considerably less dangerous than a 600-sized heli swinging 600mm GF blades. A 600-sized heli is literally deadly if mishandled. There is also an intimidation factor to a 600-sized heli that is simply not there with the smaller machines, which of course can have its own consequences. This intimidation is generally related to safety but just the sheer size of the 600 class birds can make some people hesitant. If you have someone with some experience to help you then it is far easier to start with the larger machines than it would be by yourself. Going it alone is by no means impossible, you will just need a bit more fortitude, patience, and should spend even more time educating yourself. A good example of this is simply the building of the helicopter. There are a number of ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) 450-size helis but none, that I know of, for 600-size. Again, with larger machines you will need more assistance, time, and self-education (and preferably all three) than you will with the smaller helis.

Hopefully all of this will help you make your decision. There is probably nothing more enjoyable than flying a T-Rex 600 but the 450- and 500-sized helis have challenges and advantages of their own. Decide what best fits you and your circumstances and go fly!

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